Apple Vision Pro Hands-on: Brilliant AR Capabilities That Still Cost Too Darn Much

Apple Vision Pro Hands-on: Brilliant AR Capabilities That Still Cost Too Darn Much

I had just 30 minutes to test out Apple’s $US3,500 Vision Pro headset. Others who received a review unit from Apple or purchased one themselves have spent a week or more with it by this point. We’ve seen a lot of interesting use cases for the headset and an equal number of people hawking dumb and potentially dangerous Vision Pro clips for clicks. The latter has gotten so notorious they’ve been dubbed “Vision Bros.” After my short stint in Apple’s new, beautiful, and very impressive “spatial” environment, I’m not sure if there’s any reason for anybody who doesn’t have thousands of bucks to burn or a burning need for fleeting internet fame should ever consider owning one.

By the time a little more than a week had passed since the Vision Pro first hit store shelves, we were left with dwindling options for actually getting our hands on one. Former Gizmodo staff had a fair few good things to say about the headset when Apple first announced it, but a full review unit was not in the cards. The base $US3,500 for a new Apple-brand headset is equivalent to a month and a half of my salary before taxes. I’m still paying off my iPhone 14 Pro in $US50 allotments month after month. So, if I had the choice of paying for rent or purchasing a VR headset, I’d go for the roof over my head. Sure, a spatial video of a dinner table will look rather good on a Vision Pro, but I’d probably prefer real sustenance over any virtual meal.

My in-store Vision Pro demo was limited to just a few apps under a strict time limit, but I was able to gauge the quality of the controls and pass through quickly. In just a few words, it’s the most capable hand and eye tracking of any VR headset I’ve used. Its depth of colours on its twin 4K mini-LED displays was unmatched, and the controls are simple and intuitive enough that I picked up the gist in just a few minutes. Its spatial video and photos had a very unique, 3D effect that reminded me of the hologram video from the Minority Report movie. The 3D movies indeed look very good on Apple’s headset.

Software flex

Ignore the impressive hardware specs for a second, as it’s clear the biggest boon for the Vision Pro is its software. The gesture controls were extraordinarily intuitive, and it’s obvious the company put a lot of man-hours into how users would neatly reorganize their workstations. You can leave a window anywhere in your field of view.

Apple promised a true revolution of computing, but despite the company’s directive to never use the letters “V” and “R” together when talking about their new headset, the real question we should is how good the Vision Pro is compared to other VR headsets. I’ve used other modern, top-of-the-line VR from companies like Varjo and their latest XR-4 enterprise-level headset. Varjo’s $US3,990 headset doesn’t quite have the same level of eye tracking as Apple’s latest device, but it, too, uses 4K, micro-OLED internal displays. I would need to have both together for a true side-by-side as to overall pixel density, clarity, and depth of colour, but they still are comparable.

The Vision Pro’s passthrough is indeed one of its strongest features. Still, I couldn’t give it a massive edge compared to other headsets that are explicitly made for developers or other businesses and not the hardcore Apple fanatic. Instead, we can look at the $US500 Meta Quest 3, which also sports a full-color passthrough. No, the image quality of Meta’s headset is far less pretty than what streams from Apple’s cameras. The video from Quest 3 looks extra warm in a closed environment. The Quest tends to warp objects placed directly in front of the headset. There’s also far more lag between your movements and what you see on Quest compared to Vision Pro. You could probably play ping pong in Apple’s headset, but on Quest, it would be a big handicap.

But does any of that matter? The Quest doesn’t have the Vision Pro’s eye tracking, but it does now have hand gesture controls that work surprisingly well. Its video quality isn’t as good as Apple’s, but it’s also a seventh of the price. Here’s the rub. The Quest 3 is close to where Apple will end up once it starts to bring the cost down. I have no doubt that a future Vision device will be powerful, but it needs to scale down. It doesn’t need the complicated EyeSight external display to pretend you’re actually in a room with your friends or family. It doesn’t need those still-rough 3D Persona avatars for video calls. There are some features that could have been left out in initial drafts that could have helped save on costs. Apple is known for its spartan sense of design changes for the iPhone. The Vision Pro seems unnecessarily extravagant.

Price problem

What has annoyed me so far about Vision Pro reviews coverage was how few seemed to want to acknowledge the device’s obtuse price scheme. The New York Times (which didn’t receive a review unit) pointed out that anybody who wants accessories or extra battery packs will easily be spending well above that starting $US3,500 price. Still, the headset is one of the most expensive consumer-end devices to receive this amount of marketing. Bloomberg, which finally released its Vision Pro review Sunday (likely because the outlet had to purchase one for review), said we may need another few generations of Vision headsets before we get something that truly matches Apple’s true augmented reality ambitions.

After using the Vision Pro, even so briefly, I can’t help but agree. The amount of effort Apple put into these demos shows how important a good initial product launch is to the Cupertino Company. It doesn’t need to sell millions like the company does with the latest iPhones. Instead, the company has reportedly limited shipments to around 500,000 for this year. No, Apple doesn’t expect a person like me to buy one. It wants people with enough cash to burn and/or limited amounts of impulse control to dive into its real spatial computer.

The real test will be whether customers and perhaps even those supposed “Vision Bros,” are still using the Vision Pro as their desktop replacement a few months from now. If they’re only pulling it out once in a while when a friend comes over, then it doesn’t bode well for future, less-expensive Vision releases.

The Apple Vision Pro is available in the US only, no word on when it’s available in Australia or the price.

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